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Interview with Michel Leconte CEO of SEO Samba - Part II
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Yesterday we featured part one of our interview with SEO Samba CEO Michel Leconte. Here is the conclusion of our interview with Michel. If you are attending SMX West this week, be sure to check out the SEO Samba booth (booth #321).

[Jody]: Why do you think that online marketers tend to focus budget on PPC rather than SEO? With the current state of the economy, do you think this will change? Will SEO and Organic Search finally get the recognition it deserves?

[Michel Leconte]: I recall a neuroscience study (my wife's trade) stating that activities that produce instant rewards excite a very specific part of the brain, which in turn sends endorphins throughout your body. So it is not totally surprising that PPC has been such a hit. On the other hand, SEO is a longer-term endeavor based on contradictory theories and information that is confusing to most, rather painful and lengthy to execute, does not scale well, and might or might not meet expectations. Hmmm…do you think we have a perception problem here? Our reptilian brains do not cope well with complexity. This reptilian part of our brains need clear choices—and it makes decisions at the end of the day. For SEO to claim a bigger part of the pie, I think many professionals position SEO as a virtuous foundation for all marketing initiatives, both downstream and sideways, with the highest return on investment of the SEM spectrum. This is all good and well, but for this message to be credible, we need to bring a higher level of SEO performance predictability.
[Jody]: Agreed, we feel that things such as Universal and Blended Search require a higher level of SEO.

[Michel Leconte]: When consulting with larger or growing organizations, scale becomes a consideration. Unfortunately, scale often turns up being a con rather than a pro. Once all is said and done, a couple of challenges, at least, remain on the agency side: how to differentiate your SEO offering from the competition, and how to take advantage of your own pool of business and scale your practice? It is very much part of SEO Samba's core value proposition to provide answers to all of those questions. The current economic environment will trigger various behaviors. Sophisticated marketers might move budgets away from PPC to SEO if they are convinced that conditions are met for a breakthrough of their web properties in the SERP, while first time search marketers in the small business segment might be reassured by the predictability and immediate return offered by PPC. At SEO Samba, we also see an opportunity in that segment for our SEO expert partners, especially at the local search engine optimization level. We are seeing a new wave of first-time marketers leapfrogging more experienced ones and adopting the technology platform as a way to perform quickly without having to go through the trials and errors of others, while establishing a base from which they can scale their online operations.

[Jody]: Many suggest that SEO is dead? Do you agree or is SEO just finding its legs?

[Michel Leconte]: At this juncture, I believe that SEO is a by-product of “freedom of enterprise” expression. The day it dies, it will be an indicator that we loose our freedom to engage in a free-to-enterprise system. In effect, SEO will die the day there's only paid-for-placement. However, that business model, like Goto.com found out in its time, is not sustainable in an open network. Only controlled Internet access could maintain an artificial order, de facto restraining listing in such ways. Microsoft and AOL could not impose their vision of the world back in the early days, and no one can seriously contemplate proposing this model to consumers again at this stage and expect them to accept it willingly. Now, do not get me wrong here. I'm not saying that if SEO exists as an industry in your country, then you can establish the fact that you live in a democratic state.
China with its developing SEO industry is an illustration of this. I'm just saying that if SEO exists and then dies off, I'd be worried. I'd be worried because I can imagine a landscape where search engine queries would be made by other forms of artificial intelligence based on an expressed or implied need from a human. And I still see a need for SEO on the seller side. Closer to home, I can see a decrease in search engines crawling web sites to retrieve content and use RSS coupled with an updated and harden version of Ping to display updates in real time while weighing interest from social venues metrics. But even then, this trade, albeit with a different name, would survive.
As long as free-to-use, relatively efficient large distribution channels are available, sellers will compete to position a product or a service in front of buyers. Even channel fragmentation from personalization technologies will not prevent SEO, or whatever acronym its successor will bear, from existing. It will merely create sub-specializations by consumer profiles…following traditional marketing agency segmentation models (GenX, babyboomers specialists..etc..) only in a more refined way.
SEO gives the impression that it’s perpetually looking for its bearings, and in a reactive mode. This is to be expected from a trade that is living off understanding changes occurring in application’s algorithm controlled by other entities. Indeed, the relationship is not one of equals. For SEO to perform, one needs to understand the interest of search engines. On that count, I’m observing that their concern for SEO stems from a quality assurance rather than a business development angle. The mere fact that our designated interlocutor at the largest search engine is the head of the spam team (even if he’s a great evangelist) is telling in that sense. Thanks to our previous experiences working at search engine companies, SEO Samba has integrated this dimension to make websites compliant with published guidelines at the outset. I think there’s also an opportunity for less of a schizophrenic relationship between search engines and SEO, but that’s a different discussion altogether.
[Jody]: Michel it was a pleasure. Enjoy your time at SMX West. We'll catch up with you at SES NY next month.

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posted by Jody @ Tuesday, February 10, 2009  
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